Answers to therapeutic music FAQs

Here are answers to some of the questions I am asked about playing therapeutic music at the bedside.

What is the return on investment (ROI) for the healthcare facility to hire therapeutic musicians?

There are many benefits to having therapeutic musicians on staff.

  • Experiencing a therapeutic music session can increase patient satisfaction, which contributes to higher Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores.

  • Providing therapeutic music shows compliance with EP2 in the The Joint Commission Pain Management Standards➚. Providing therapeutic music to those dealing with opioid addiction shows compliance with EP4.

  • Faster healing times can result in higher patient turnover rates…

  • …while staff exposure to therapeutic music sessions can reduce staff turnover.

  • Decreased anxiety in patients can result in a less harried, more efficient staff.

  • Adding a therapeutic music program to your facility’s offerings can result in increased publicity.

  • Conducting research on the benefits of live, acoustic music at the bedside can result in grant money and recognition.

What are your rates?

My rates are comparable to a Registered Nurse or massage therapist.

I am currently employed at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, NJ, through the Pastoral Care Department. This means my services are free to patients and their caregivers at that hospital.

For private sessions, rates can be affected by travel time and other factors. Please contact me for rates that are applicable to your specific situation.

Is this covered by insurance/Medicare/Medicaid?


Music practitioners today find themselves in a similar place that acupuncturists and massage therapists were in a few years ago. As the benefits of live, therapeutic music become more and more documented and publicized, the chance that we will be covered by insurance increases. 

Organizations like the Music for Healing and Transition Program➚ (MHTP) and the Sound and Music Alliance➚ continue to conduct and fund research in order to promote the benefits of therapeutic music. I serve on the MHTP Research Committee.

Why don’t you just volunteer?

Because it is skilled healthcare work.

Although nurses, doctors, psychologists, and other healthcare professionals might volunteer some of their time for some situations, they are professionals. Even with today’s insurance debacle, no one is arguing that healthcare staff should not be paid; they are arguing about where the money should come from.

If I were choosing music for my personal satisfaction, without regard for the patient, then I would not be asking for pay. However, a Certified Music Practitioner® is trained to apply our music skills to a healthcare environment, working regularly alongside the healthcare staff, focusing on the needs of patient, and altering the music to fit those needs in the moment. This is very different from entertaining.

Can any musician play at the patient’s bedside (without training in therapeutic music)?

You decide.

I realize that when a degree or certificate is available, people who have that credential often argue that no one can do their job without it. 

If you are on the staff of a healthcare facility, I would ask if you feel comfortable having an unskilled, uninsured musician address individual patients?

If you are a musician, I would ask if you feel capable of walking into the room of someone who is sick or dying, who could be in critical condition, who might have just come out of heart surgery, who might not be able to speak with you about what they want, who is in their most vulnerable state—could you play for them, one on one, to foster a healing environment?

Are you taking jobs away from music therapists?


The best analogy is to think of music therapists like physical therapists and therapeutic musicians like massage therapists. Then ask: Do massage therapists take jobs away from physical therapists?

Music practitioners perform a task that some music therapists are beginning to include in their therapy toolbox, but the focus of music therapy is therapyTherapeutic musicians do NOT do therapy.

Does therapeutic music work?


The results of playing therapeutic music for an individual patient can be observed in the heart rate, pulse rate, and blood pressure in the monitors, as well as in the physical relaxation of their face and body. Effects on pain tolerance, stress reduction, and the immune system are well documented.  Read some of the research that supports healing music.

Does it work for all patients, all of the time? No therapy—pharmacological, physical, cognitive—works for all patients, all of the time.

Do you play specific songs for specific health conditions?

Not quite.

This is a big reason that therapeutic musicians receive training. If we could state which song always works for which illness, then this work would be much simpler!

There are general rules that Certified Music Practitioners are trained to follow with regards to what types of music work or don’t work for certain conditions. For example, we’re not going to play music with an irregular rhythm for a patient with a heart condition. We’re not going to play non-stop notes for a patient with COPD.

But the rule first and foremost is to play what works for the patient that you are with. Even if you have played for that patient before, what worked then might not work the same way today.

The nebulous nature of what works and what doesn’t necessitates training in observation and the skillful alteration of musical elements. 

Do you take requests?

I do not ask for requests.

Taking requests is more like entertaining than providing a therapeutic session. Asking a patient for requests can mean that you want them to pay attention to you, which removes their permission to relax. It also puts the onus on the patient to figure out what would be healing for them. 

How can you know what the patient wants to hear without asking them?

By observing their reactions.

This question is especially important for patients who are not able to speak. While I am playing, I simultaneously watch the patient. Does their expression change? Their body position? Their breathing? Blood pressure, heart rate, pulse ox, or anything else on the monitors?

If the music is having no effect or a negative effect, I change it. Watch me play some examples of imagined patient scenarios.

Do you play hymns?

Not unless the patient asks me to.

The Music for Healing and Transition Program is not affiliated with any religious association and expressly forbids proselytizing. I do not go into a patient’s room with any religious intentions. Read more about ethics for music practitioners.

If a patient requests a hymn, and if I know it, I play it. (The request must come from the patient rather than a visitor.) If I don’t know it, I say so, and I judge what I have  in my repertoire that can serve their needs.

What do you do with your harp if there is an emergency with the patient?

I get out of the way fast.

My harp weighs nine pounds, and I usually play standing up. If there is an emergency, I can quickly move myself and the harp out of the way. Going from room to room, the harp, stool, stand, and sheet music are all in a cart that can be easily pushed aside by healthcare staff should the need arise.

Ready to contact me? Or, read more about live, therapeutic music at the bedside.